John Russell – American Actor, Star of Lawman

Posted on Jan 14, 2012 under ARCHIVES | 32 Comments

Jan. 3, 1921 to Jan. 19, 1991

John Lawrence Russell was born on January 3, 1921 in Los Angeles, CA, one of five children; two sisters and two brothers.  He studied drama and was an athlete at the University of California.  In 1942 he joined the U.S. Marines and was commissioned as a second lieutenant assigned to the 6th Marine Regiment. He served as an assistant intelligence officer when his division was sent to Guadalcanal.  He received a medical discharge after contracting malaria and was decorated for his valor in 1944.  He met and married his wife Renata in 1943, a marriage that lasted for over 20 years.

He was fortunate enough to be one of those few actors who started their careers by being discovered.  His tall, dark and handsome physique got him noticed by a talent agent in a Beverly Hills restaurant and made his film debut in 1945.  He started his career in supporting roles through 20th Century Fox and later signed with Republic Pictures.

Although he mostly played supporting roles in westerns, in 1955 he was given the lead in the television drama Soldiers of Fortune.   His costar was veteran actor Chick Chandler who appeared in more than 130 films from 1925 through the mid-1950s.   Although the show attracted children, the adult following was very weak and therefore it was canceled in 1957.

In 1958, John guest starred in the popular western Maverick , starring James Garner.  He appeared in two episodes Rage for Vengeance and Lonesome Reunion.  That same year he guest starred on Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker, in the episode The Empty Gun.

According to an article written by Everette Aaker for Television Western Players of the Fifties, his role in The Empty Gun inspired Warner Brothers to create the series that would make John Russell a household name.  He was cast as Marshal Dan Troop in the popular western drama “Lawman“costarring Peter Brown as Deputy Johnny McKay and Peggy Castle as Lilly Merrill.

Lawman 1958 – 1962

Over the run of Lawman, he appeared in two Warner Brothers feature films.  Yellowstone Kelly, starring Clint Walker and costarring Edd Byrnes.

He was also cast in Rio Bravo with John Wayne, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, Walter Brennan, Claude Akins, and Ward Bond.

In 1959 he guest starred in an episode of NBC’s Northwest Passage, a fictional account of the adventures of Major Robert Rogers in the French and Indian War.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, he appeared in more than 20 films as a supporting actor.  Three of these films were directed by Clint Eastwood and one being  in the role as Marshal Stockburn (the villain) in the 1985 Pale Rider.

He parted company with Warner Brothers in 1962 when Lawman was canceled.  Although he had achieved an excellent repertoire for his acting, his career seemed to slow down for a few years.   He did, however, manage to get work in other westerns including Hostile Guns in 1967 with George Montgomery and Tab Hunter and Cannon for Cordoba (1970) with George Peppard and Peter Duel.

In 1969 John appeared in five episodes of It Takes a Thief starring Robert Wagner.  These episodes were: Guess Who’s To Rio?, Saturday Night In Venice, The Blue, Blue Danube, Payoff In The Piazza and A Friend In Deed.

In the 1980s, John contracted emphysema and sadly passed away at age 70 on January 19, 1991.  He was survived by three children.

In 1998, Peter Brown was asked what his best recollections were of Lawman, he answered: “John Russell, John Russell, John Russell. He was about as good as it got.”

Special Note:

Thanks so much to Leona, I can now add information regarding John’s children:
“Kim, John and Renata’s children were: Renata Amy, Shaunna (married my cousin) and John James”Leona

(John was married to RenataTitus from 1943 – 1965)

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32 Responses to “John Russell – American Actor, Star of Lawman”

  1. Lonnie Chapman Says:

    Lonnie Chapman Says: 
January 21st, 2012 at 6:02 am   edit This site is fantastic and I really like Clint Walker, Gil Favor & John Russell. Do you have Ty Hardin(Bronco), Will Hutchins (Sugarfoot), Wayde Preston (Colt .45), James Garner (Maverick) & Chuck Connors (The Rifleman)
Thanks, Lonnie

  2. ellent Says:

    Thanks so much Lonnie! I couldn’t agree more. I decided to stay with this theme because I too love the old westerns and have more wonderful people I will be adding to the list. Hopefully this weekend I will be adding Dennis Weaver to this wonderful mix. I hope you will stop by again soon and again, thank you so much for your comments, they are truly appreciated.

  3. Lonnie Chapman Says:

    Lonnie Chapman Says: 
January 21st, 2012 at 6:08 am   edit I really like this website especially Clint Walker, Eric Fleming & John Russell! My all-time favorite cowboy is Clint Walker follow by Eric Fleming & John Russell! I like all of the Warner Bros TV Series Westerns along with Rawhide, Rifleman & Gunsmoke!
Do you have Ty Hardin (Bronco), Will Hutchins (Sugarfoot), Wayde Preston (Colt.45), James Garner (Maverick), Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) & James Arness (Gunsmoke). 
Thanks For Sharing! Lonnie

  4. ellent Says:

    Hi Lonnie, I don’t yet, but I will definitely get them up and running as soon as possible. Thanks so much for mentioning these guys. I do have a bio on James Garner and will be adding Chuck Connors very shortly.

  5. Thomas la Pare Says:

    I would just like to know the title and author of the book that became the basis of the TV series”Lawman” I saw it listed just once in one of the very early episodes. I would like to acquire a copy. Thanks for your time.

  6. Thomas la Pare Says:

    I would like to know the title and author of the book that became “Lawman”, the TV series.

  7. Kim Says:

    I have wondered what the children of John Russell are named. I know he was survived by 3 children but I have never seen their names. Can you supply their names?

  8. ellent Says:

    hmmmm,not sure but will look into that! Great question!

  9. ellent Says:

    It’s kind of unknown. Supposedly, this story was depicted from DanTucker, better known as ‘Dangerous Dan’ 1849. Bob Alexander wrote a bio on this chacter but also wrote Wild Bill Hickcock and stories regarding Wyatt Earp. He was supported in this claim by historian Leon C. Metz. He was also a subject in the book Deadly Dozen, by author Robert K. DeArme. So quite honestly,it is rather hard to put a put an actual finger on where the “Lawman” actually surfaced from but probably from stories based on Hickock and stories by Metz

  10. Leona Says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting John Russell and family many years ago. His daughter married my cousin. Although the marriage did not last long, I still remember how beautiful that wedding was. I adored Lawman and think of him every time Pale Rider is run.

  11. Leona Says:

    Kim, John and Renata’s children were: Renata Amy, Shaunna (married my cousin) and John James.

  12. ellent Says:

    Oh Wow! That is just wonderful! He was a wonderful actor and many times Peter Brown stated that he learned so much working with John. Lawman is a truly wonderful western. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  13. ellent Says:

    Thanks so much for that info Leona. I didn’t know their names either.

  14. Jackie Marshall Says:

    I just now watching all the Western Classics! A LOVELY website you created! Thank you for sharing with all that love watching western movies!

  15. Jackie Marshall Says:

    Love watching western classics!N

  16. kay Says:

    I was wondering if anyone knows John Russells brothers and sisters names? I cant find anything on them. Im just a family history buff and he is one of my favorites. thanks for the childrens names. I couldnt find them either.

  17. ellent Says:

    Hi Kay,

    I have never been able to find the names of his children. He was married to Renata Titus from 1943 until 1965 and was the mother of his children. Then married to a much younger woman, Linda Warner Pearse from 1970 to 1971. That is all I have on his family life. Sorry, wish I could be more helpful.

  18. ellent Says:

    Hi Jackie,

    Thank you so much for your kind thoughts. I truly love the old westerns as well and it’s such a passion of mine to bring these wonderful talents to everyone today. They truly should never be forgotten because they left such a great legacy of an era gone by, offering the finest of performances.

  19. ellent Says:

    Hi Thomas, I have searched high a low and have not found any reference to the book that the series might have been created after.

  20. ellent Says:

    Oh Thank you so much for this great info, Leona. I looked high and low and could not find their names

  21. Thomas la Pare Says:

    Thanks for your research! Never watched “Lawman” 50 years ago, but Russell really impressed me as an actor! In my minds eye I could see him in “Twelve O’Clock High” as General Frank Savage!

    I’ll have to get a copy of “Soldiers of Fortune”. I think that predated “Lawman”.

  22. ellent Says:

    Thank you so much for stopping by Thomas, I appreciate it so much. John has proven to be one of the most popular celebs on my blog! He was a marvelous actor!

  23. Henry Says:

    I read this today and think it is wonderful. I grew up with westerns as a young boy in the 50s. I always looked up to stars that played western roles. John Russell was a role model for me and was a great actor. He came across truly as a man one would want to look up to.

  24. Thomas la Pare Says:

    Enjoyed your article on James Garner. He has always been a favorite of mine. His sense of humor bleeds through in most of the characters he has played. “Maverick” and “The Americanization of Emily” are just two examples of that humor! He is definitely in a class all by himself!

  25. Basil Says:

    The book “Lawman” based on is “Trouble Rides Tall” by Harry Whittington.

  26. Nancy Quinn Dale Says:


    I am a huge fan of John Russell. What a wonderful actor. He had such commanding presence. I have created a tribute fan page to Lawman. The fan members of Mr. Russell and Mr. Peter Brown are growing by leaps and bounds. I’m getting questions wondering if perhaps some of Mr. Russell’s family has seen the page and is there any way to contact someone from his family. If it’s permissible, let me extend John Russell/Lawman fans an invitation to stop by and pay a visit to my tribute to such an outstanding actor!
    Thank you, Nancy Quinn Dale

  27. Thomas La Pare Says:

    The only actor who could have played Dan Troop besides John Russell, in my opinion, is Randolph Scott!

  28. ellent Says:

    Wow! Thomas! I think you are dead on!

  29. Nancy Turner Says:

    I know John Russell had a daughter who attended Corvallis High School, Studio City, CA, where I was educated my freshman and sophomore years, 1961-63. His daughter was, I think, a year older than I, as we weren’t in the same class. She was a loner with dark (brown?) hair, pulled back into a long straight pony tail. I remember one of the nun’s asking her why she carried her books in a leather masculine-style briefcase; at that time, we all carried our books only in our arms — a briefcase was what you now would say is nerdy, definitely not in style. I do no know her name, but she was one of a number of girls whose parents either were actors or otherwise associated with the movie industry at the Catholic, all-girls’ high school run by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. The school was on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, just west (?) of Ventura Boulevard. The show Lawman was one of the top TV shows at the time, but John Russell’s daughter was not showy, but in fact plain and a loner.

  30. ellent Says:

    That is just awesome! Thanks so much for sharing and as always I appreciate all of you stopping by and hope you enjoy a little walk down memory lane!

  31. Nancy Quinn Dale Says:

    Hi, I posted on here July, 2013, I had created a Tribute Fan Page on Facebook for Lawman. I have since created the John Russell Fan Group Page on Facebook for Mr. Russell. If you are a Lawman/John Russell fan, please drop in and pay a visit to these two tribute pages honoring such a talented actor as Mr. John Russell! Thank you!!

  32. ellent Says:

    I will be more than pleased to stop in to your Fan Page! See you there! Thank you so much for coming by! I appreciate it so very much!

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